Sundeep Bhutoria

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Urban India – New ICCR guidelines misses the point

May 18, 2016: When I landed at the Bangkok airport today it was past midnight. I was greeted everywhere with the usual graceful wai or sawatdi or called sawasdee - the traditional Thai welcome with folded hands - similar to our namaste and Cambodian sampeah.
I always admire this country for their tourist-friendly nature and no wonder the despite the humid and hot weather Thailand continues to attract so much visitors. There was a lady who was distributing Thai Tourism brochures where certain dos and donts were mentioned. This reminded me of the recent ICCR guidelines.
A traveller in today’s world only has to click a button to know about a place he intends to travel to. All the information is just a click away. Some of the leading travel sites tell us one on what to wear, how to behave and even warn of possible risks one may face while visiting a new place.
Recently, I read an interesting article in a leading daily which referred to the new guidelines published by ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) for scholars and travellers coming for a short stay in India. The ICCR as you may know aims at strengthening India’s cultural relations with other countries and also organises study tours, introductory courses and summer camps for international students.
While going through the guidelines what drew my attention in particular were certain statements. The Ninth Edition of this guidebook writes - "Educated women have cast aside many customary inhibitions and have come forward in many ways in the past few decades. They will talk to the student when he is introduced to them. The modern Indian woman is traditional in some ways. She may refuse politely if a man asks her out for a film or an outing. Dating is not common in India."
Regarding travelling in public transport the handbook says - "Queuing for bus is advised. A student need not be surprised should he find that the "first-come-first-served" rule is not being strictly followed as the habit of forming a queue is not yet fully developed in all places." This perhaps is more pertinent.
Among other things it prepares a student to face the hardships in the hostel – occasional water shortages and power crisis etc. It also talks of housing problem that makes finding a house difficult.
The handbook, no doubt informs a person of the country’s traditions and values, but reading it gives an impression of an India where girls don’t mingle with boys; paints Indian society as one steeped in tradition and far from the ways of the modern world.
While it is a fact Indian is still primarily an agrarian nation with more than 68 per cent of the population living in the rural areas, it is also true that the target audience of ICCR are the people who come and live in the urban areas.
To quote from a World Bank report, India more than 1.2 billion people is the world’s fourth largest economy and on a growth trajectory.
The guidelines further says - “Historical changes are unfolding and unleashing a host of new opportunities to forge a 21st Century nation. India will soon have the largest and youngest workforce the world has ever seen. At the same time, the country is in the midst of a massive wave of urbanization as some 10 million people move to towns and cities each year in search of jobs and opportunity. It is the largest rural-urban migration of this century.”
The current scenario of India in the above context of ICCR guidelines would instead of clarifying end up confounding the foreigners. A person arriving in Delhi or Mumbai or any other metro for that matter would not be able to relate to the guidelines in the handbook.
While talking of the population in general the guidelines say -"Indians are generally friendly and informal. Many of them may not wait to be introduced in order to talk to the student. In buses and trains, you may find people eager to talk.”
The fact is that on an average Indian urban girls in her jeans, speak English, hang out with male friends, some of them even putting their professional careers over their marriage, often choose their own partners and some also enter into live-in relationships. This reflects the typical modern Indian woman very much at par with their counterparts in the West.
The handbook could have done a better job had it been more specific and urban-centric rather than making sweeping statements.
ess bee

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